Officials said Florida faces “major impact” as Tropical Storm Idalia is expected to rapidly strengthen to a powerful Category 3 hurricane and threaten its Gulf Coast with dangerous storm surge and winds.
Italia is expected to intensify in the coming hours before making landfall in the Sunshine State on Wednesday morning near Big Bend, Florida — a rare occurrence of natural, storm surge-affected coastlines stretching from Tampa to just south of Tallahassee. .
“Italia may become a hurricane this morning and is forecast to become a major hurricane early Wednesday,” National Hurricane Center said.
The storm has maximum sustained winds of 70 mph and is about 190 miles southwest of Dry Tortugas, with tropical storm conditions expected Tuesday morning, Hurricane Center 2 said in a Tuesday update.
“This is going to be a major hurricane,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news conference Monday.
On its current track, Italia’s center is forecast to soon pass near or over western Cuba, trek across the eastern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday, along the Florida Gulf Coast on Wednesday – and its impacts could soon be felt from the Florida Keys. As of Tuesday.
Only Florida will feel the impact. After the storm makes landfall, damaging winds and heavy rain will spread inland to Florida, parts of Georgia and the Carolinas.
Florida’s west coast, the Florida panhandle, southeast Georgia and the eastern Carolinas are expected to receive 4 to 8 inches of rain Tuesday through Thursday — and street flooding is possible.
As the storm heads toward Florida, improvements have been seen across the state. Here’s the latest:
- Airports are closed: Tampa International Airport will suspend all commercial operations beginning Tuesday and remain closed until later in the week to assess any damage, airport officials announced. The St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport terminal building will close Tuesday afternoon.
- Evacuation in at least 10 districts: Hillsborough, Franklin, Taylor, Levy, Citrus, Manatee, Pasco, Hernando, Pinellas and Sarasota counties have all urged residents to evacuate certain areas at risk.
- Schools will be closed: 32 county school districts have issued closures, as have several colleges and universities, including Florida State University, the University of Florida and Florida A&M University.
- An emergency has been declared: DeSantis expanded the emergency declaration to 46 of Florida’s 67 counties Monday morning. Several local jurisdictions have also declared states of emergency.
- The Florida National Guard was activated: More than 5,000 National Guardsmen were activated to help weather the storm.
- US Navy ships begin to departNavy ships have begun departing Florida, ahead of landfall by Tropical Storm Italia, the Navy said Monday.
- Power outages are expected: DeSantis told residents to prepare to be without power. “If you’re in the path of the storm, you should expect power outages, so please prepare for that,” the governor told residents Sunday.
- Services suspended by hospital system: Patients will be transferred from at least three hospitals: HCA Florida Pasadena Hospital, HCA Florida Trinity West Hospital and HCA Florida West Tampa Hospital.
“We want everyone to take this storm seriously,” Tampa Fire Rescue Chief Barbara Tripp said during a news conference.
The fire chief asked citizens to clear debris from properties and look out for neighbors who need help ahead of the storm’s arrival.
“Once the wind reaches a certain mile-per-hour speed, Tampa fire rescue will be unable to respond,” Tripp warned.
The storm is forecast to strengthen quickly as it tracks the Gulf of Mexico, tapping into some of the planet’s warmest waters before making landfall in Florida.
If it does, it will join a growing list of devastating storms like Hurricane Ian, which leveled Florida’s coastline and killed more than 100 people — and has rapidly intensified in recent years before making landfall.
Italia poses a “significant risk” of the event, the National Hurricane Center warned Monday, as it travels through the Gulf of Mexico.
Water temperatures around South Florida have soared to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas this summer, and overall temperatures in the Gulf have been record-warm, enough to support rapid strengthening.
Florida’s Big Bend has the potential for life-threatening storm surges of up to 12 feet — only to be worsened by waves driven by hurricane-force winds of 100 mph.
Storm surge, which is when a storm surges out to sea, is one of the most dangerous aspects of a hurricane and the reason behind most storm drains.
Cedar Key could be cut off by heavy storm surge, said Jamie Rome, deputy director of the National Hurricane Center.
“I’m especially concerned for them,” Rome said during a Facebook Live conference call. An entire island can be completely cut off by such conditions.
Rome stressed that evacuation orders issued along the coast due to the storm surge remain in effect.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, storm surge accounts for nearly half of hurricane-related deaths.
Flooding is unlikely to happen only in coastal areas.
Inland areas where people could evacuate could see dangerous flooding and heavy rain from Italy.
Andrew Kruskiewicz, a senior researcher at Columbia University’s School of Climatology, warns that risks related to heavy rainfall could also occur 100 miles away from where the storm’s center made track.
“It’s something we’re seeing more and more, and it’s a climate change link because we’re seeing more wet tropical cyclones and wetter cyclones,” he told CNN. “So we need to pay more attention to the risks associated with extreme rainfall, especially in areas far from the coast.”
“Friend of animals everywhere. Devoted analyst. Total alcohol scholar. Infuriatingly humble food trailblazer.”